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Paige Patterson’s Take on Alcohol

Posted by Alethes (Truthful) Baptist on July 9, 2006

Exactly one week ago, I sat at my laptop and composed my response to Danny Akin’s rejection of drinking alcohol. Who would know (except God) that one week later I would be composing my response to Dr. Paige Patterson’s BP article rejecting alcohol? There are many similarities between Akin and Patterson’s arguments, but a few differences. I am grateful that Dr. Patterson, President of one of our SBC entities, has chosen to speak to this issue. However, again I am disappointed with the argumentation. Let me briefly summarize his argument and then provide my response.

Unlike Akin, Patterson does not employ any emotional arguments in his article. He gives a brief explanation of four types of fermenting in NT times. Then, he provides an “abstinence” hermeneutic for various NT passages that discuss wine. He inserts some added observations and concludes by reminding his readers of the crux of his argument (which is woven throughout the article): there are three categories: the prohibited, the acceptable, and God’s ideal. Patterson would have his readers believe that, though drinking alcohol is not rejected by Scripture, abstinence is “God’s ideal”.

Here are my thoughts on Patterson’s argument. First, I applauded Patterson for seeking to deal honestly with certain passages (specifically John 2.1-11 and 1 Timothy 5.23). I disagree with his interpretations (which I will get to shortly), but I am grateful that he did not simply skip over them. Second, I do believe there are legitimate categories such as Patterson has outlined: prohibited, acceptable, and ideal for the Christian life. Third, he is right to point out that “one must acknowledge that the ancients, however noble, imbibed without reluctance. Evidently the prophets and the apostles did not view this as wrong, so long as it was a small glass of wine . . . taken with the noon or evening meal”. Despite these points of agreement, I find his overall argument to be unconvincing, at best, and in error, at worst.

First, Patterson’s application of the three categories seems to be too convenient. If one pressed these categories upon other issues within Scripture, would Patterson be as quick to come to the same conclusions. For instance, he argues (rightly) that polygamy is an unacceptable practice. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7, notes that marriage (and the accompanying marital act of sex) is acceptable, but that singleness is the preferable (i.e., ideal) state (see 1 Cor. 7.25-26, 28-29, 34-35, 40). Patterson’s final plea in his article “Can it be anything less than sin for a believer who is genuinely grateful for the atoning power of Christ in his life to pursue anything other than the highest — God’s ideal — the best that he can be for Christ?” rings only hollow as his ‘grid’ pertains to marriage. Paul seems to believe singleness is ideal. Then, according to Patterson, why would anyone grateful for the atoning power of Christ in his life pursue anything other than the highest — God’s ideal — the best that he can be for Christ?

Second, Patterson mentions that the first time wine is ever mentioned in the Bible (Gen 9.21), it is seen as causing Noah to sin. What Patterson fails to mention is that the second pericope in which wine is mentioned (Gen 14.18) is the story of Melchizedek’s encounter with Abram. Melchizedek brings out “bread and wine” and the text describes Melchizedek as “a priest of God Most High”. Melchizedek blessed Abram and then blessed Abram’s God. There is no explicit statement that those gathered ate the bread and drank the wine, but common sense would lead one to just such a conclusion. I wonder if Patterson is willing to say the priest-archetype for Christ (Ps. 110.4; Heb. 7.17) did only ‘the acceptable’ but not ‘God’s ideal’?

Third, one of Patterson’s arguments is that “the noticeable absence of any mention of wine prior to Noah might indicates [sic] that men, in their pristine state, were not drawn to wine. In any case, the fuller revelation in Christ, plus the development of superior medications and purer drinking substances, render the whole subject passé for the believer.” This is silly on multiple levels. First, I am not sure how he is using the word “pristine” when referencing pre-Noah humanity. The standard definition is “perfect” or “unblemished”. Certainly Patterson is not arguing that those before Noah were sinless. However, I am not sure what sort of ‘secondary’ definition he is using. In addition, that the Noah periscope is the first mention of wine in the Bible does not ‘have’ to mean anything other than the obvious (it is the first time the word is mentioned). Patterson’s inference that pre-Noah humanity may not have drunk wine is no more reasonable than saying women may not have had menstrual cycles until Gen 31.35, the first mention of “the manner of women” that fell upon Rachel (though she was lying to hide the idols under her saddle). Also, to call the “whole subject passé” is too simplistic. His case for superior medicine and better drinking substances does not negate the celebratory function of wine, as found in both the Old and New Testaments.

Fourth, his use of 1 Timothy 3.3 appears to be anything but a straightforward reading of the text. Patterson writes “The bishop (pastor) is to be free from wine (1 Timothy 3:3). One would presume that this admonition, at least in part, is for an example. If so, here again the ideal would be total abstinence for all who make up the body of Christ, i.e., the church.” However, that is absolutely NOT what the verse says. Paul wrote to Timothy concerning elders/pastors: that they be “not addicted to wine”. There is a vast divide between Paul’s words and Patterson’s application. Paul writes “Do not be addicted”; Patterson reads “Do not ever drink”. Those are not the same concepts.

Fifth, I take great umbrage with the implications of Patterson’s following statement: “For the believer to say, ‘Let me get as close to sin as I can without being guilty,’ indicates a strange mentality indeed!” Rightly has he identified that drunkenness is a sin. However, to equate drinking alcohol as trying to get as close to sin without being guilty is illogical. If we apply that to gluttony, then one should never eat. If we apply it to sexual temptation, then one should never turn on a TV, drive in areas where there are billboards, or open up a magazine (much less EVER get near the internet). Why is this “logic” only used with alcohol?

Sixth, Patterson’s statement that “the Bible has almost no good word about [wine] and, in fact, usually associates tragedy and sin with the use of wine” simply doesn’t hold up. Any simple electronic word search of “wine” will produce a multiplicity of responses. What about Jacob’s blessing to his son Judah (the tribe from which Jesus would descend), that his eyes would be “dull from wine and his teeth white from milk” (Gen. 49.12)? It doesn’t appear that this is a condemnation, but a praise that he would have an abundance of wine and milk to drink. Such is the example of just one usage of wine in the Bible.

In conclusion, I am still utterly unconvinced that abstinence is the Biblical mandate for Christians. In addition, such a prescription for all leaders, especially in light of no clear instruction from the Bible smacks of legalism. I know many will claim that abstinence is the ‘wise’ choice, but such is, in my opinion, only a flimsy position. Last night I had dinner with a group of people, one of which currently serves on staff at a church in my town. This person ordered one beer to drink while eating dinner. This person was not the driver of a vehicle and during our dinner, exhibited absolutely no change in behavior due to alcohol consumption. There were six of us at dinner; only two of us abstained from drinking and the funny thing was that no one made a deal of it at all. I honestly believe it is a cultural issue: (generally speaking) those over 35 see all alcohol as sinful while those under 35 appreciate moderation. So, should we just wait till the ‘old guard’ dies off before we press for toleration? I do not think this is ‘wise’. I don’t suspect they would allow such generational differences to be pushed on them if younger people said that technology is so important that no one serving in leadership could be without a cell phone and detailed knowledge of how to email, surf the web, and have their own blog. I know comparing issues is apples and oranges. However, since the consumption of (or abstinence from) alcohol is NOT an ESSENTIAL, then the restrictive view should not be forced on the entire convention.

Charis humin,

Alethes (Truthful) Baptist


Posted in alcohol, NT exegesis, Southern Baptist Convention | 19 Comments »

Danny Akin’s Take on Alcohol

Posted by Alethes (Truthful) Baptist on July 1, 2006

In a recent First Person article on BPNews, Danny Akin weighed in again with his views on alcohol and abstinence. I want to give a short synopsis of the article and then provide my thoughts. His opening paragraphs are an emotionally charged story about the role alcohol has played in the destruction of his wife’s family. He moves on to provide a brief history of Southern Baptists and their rejection (as a Convention) against alcohol, and then a summary of selected biblical passages against alcohol. He concludes with some practical considerations concerning this issue.

First, I am grateful for Akin’s tone in the article. He sticks to one of his opening statements that his desire is to be gracious to those who disagree with him and to honor the Lord Jesus Christ in his response. I think he succeeds at this point. Unlike some who are prone to alternate methods, Akin does not lob any character bombs on the other side. Second, I appreciate his affirmation that those who argue for abstinence should not look down upon, with pride, those who reject the position of abstinence. “A smug, prideful abstainer without Jesus is just as lost as the poor drunkard who is always in search of another drink” (which is an incorrect characterization of those who reject abstinence, as if some justify “a drunkard who is always in search of another drink”) Third, Akin does note that Southern Baptists, as a convention, have consistently opposed alcohol since the 1880s. By implication, though he did not mention this, our convention did not publicly prefer abstinence for the first 45 years of its existence. Hence, the statement made from the stage at this year’s convention that “Southern Baptists have always argued for abstinence” (a close paraphrase of the statement) is historically inaccurate, and Akin does not disagree.

At the following points, I disagree with Akin. First, I don’t find convincing his application of certain Bible verses to this issue. He lists 1 Cor. 6.12 as containing two reasons for abstinence: alcohol is not edifying and it can enslave someone. He argues that 1 Cor. 8.13, 9.19-22, 10.32-33 are all examples of Paul’s instructions for believers to act in a loving way towards fellow believers and non-believers. I find it interesting that Akin’s dependence upon these verses for biblical precedence for abstinence is found in the very same letter where Paul chastises the Corinthian believers for their behavior at the Lord’s Table. In 1 Cor. 11.20-22, Paul’s argument is that some who come to the Lord’s Table are hungry and some are drunk. This is not commendable, not because some are drunk, but because some come hungry and some come full, meaning that the ‘haves’ were not sharing with the ‘have-nots’ in Corinth. Paul’s chastisement was not against drunkenness, but against being stingy.

He posits 1 Cor. 10.32-33 teaches the principle that we should act in a way that Christians should not seek their own pleasure (in eating and drinking, and in all behavior), but defer to non-believers so they will know Christ. However, there are two reasons to reject the application of these verses with alcoholic abstinence. First, the immediate preceding context teaches that one person’s freedom is not restricted by the conscience of another and that all things one wishes to eat/drink, if done with thankfulness, is acceptable to God. Specifically, chapter 10 deals with meat sacrificed to idols. Should a follower of Jesus eat meat sacrificed to false gods? The answer is two-fold. On one hand, the answer is no. If others see you eating idol meat, you are implicitly endorsing the worship of that particular idol. Therefore, if you know that it was sacrificed, you should abstain so others know you will not eat such meat. On the other hand, if only believers are around, the principle stands that ‘meat is meat’. Eat whatever you want. Christians know there is no such thing as ‘other gods’ so the meat sacrificed to idols is just like any other meat. So long as they are grateful for the food, they can eat it in good conscience. An even greater reason to reject the application of this passage to abstinence is that Paul clearly writes in 1 Cor. 10.27 that one should eat/drink what is set before a Christian (in the context that an unbeliever is providing the meal) without asking questions. With Akin’s position, if wine is offered to a believer, he must reject it. This goes against Akin’s use of 1 Cor. 10.32-33 (the verses he cites for his position) that a Christian should not cause offense to believers, non-believers, or to the Church in one’s actions. To reject the food/drink offered by an unbeliever is the precise context in which such an offense would be most egregious.

Akin’s use of Philips translation of Eph. 5.18 takes quite a liberty with the actual meaning of the verse. The word methuskomai means to ‘get drunk’. Paul’s admonition in this verse is to not be drunk with wine but be drunk with the Spirit. Akin’s usage of the Philips translation (Don’t get your stimulus from wine . . .) misses the point of methuskomai. The admonition is not “Do not drink” but “Do not be drunk”. No one who is anti-abstinence is arguing that Christians should ‘get your stimulus from wine.’ That is clearly not the biblical position. However, to swing the pendulum all the way to the other side to argue for abstinence seems too much for the Biblical witness to sustain.

One wonders why such careful rejection of other societal ills does not rank equally as high among our convention. Studies show that the average American household watches almost 7 hours of television per day. A child will witness 8000 murders on television by the time she finishes elementary school. Should we abstain from watching television because it might be offensive to some is potentially addictive? I am grateful for Akin’s strong convictions for his position on abstinence. However, I see no substantially historical or (more importantly) Biblical justification for abstinence in the matter of alcohol.

Akin concludes his article by asking what is wise concerning the drinking, in moderation, of alcohol. Why should one not wish to abstain? Simply speaking, it is never wise to encourage the total restriction of something the Bible could have rejected also, but chose not to do. God could have restricted absolutely the drinking of alcohol. Instead, God rejects drunkenness. It is never wise to accuse people of having no self-control. One of the major planks of the abstinance argument is that you will never become addicted to alcohol if you never take the first drink. While logically that is true, it strips Christians of their opportunity to demostrate what Akin believes Christians are unable to do (when he cites 1 Cor. 6.12) by not becoming slaves.

I am grateful that such a discussion is taking place within our convention. I believe debate is healthy and, if done with humility and kindness, will only strengthen our love for one another and our dependence upon the Scriptures for the sole authority for our doctrine. May God be glorified as we work towards unity and clarity.

Charis humin,

Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

Posted in alcohol, NT exegesis, Southern Baptist Convention | 9 Comments »

The IMB Policy On Private Prayer Language

Posted by Alethes (Truthful) Baptist on June 23, 2006

A few days ago, I was reading Don Carson’s Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. I noticed a lengthy quote that speaks volumes to the current policy concerning private prayer language recently adopted by the IMB trustees. His definition of what qualifies as a spiritual gift (which agrees with Wayne Grudem’s definition) is found in 1 Corinthians 12.7: “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” That is, there is no ‘definitive’ or ‘exhaustive’ list of spiritual gifts found within the New Testament, but any and all aspects of the spiritual life that promote the common good of the Church qualifies as a spiritual gift.

What about private prayer language, though? There appears to be no express verse listing it as a spiritual gift. More over, it benefits the individual with the language and is not ‘for the common good’ of the Church. Are the IMB trustees, then, justified in rejecting mission candidates with a private prayer language? Other blogs have dismissed any such justification from the standpoint of our convention’s confession (or previously adopted confessions, for that matter). What about from a biblical standpoint?

Carson states:

These gifts are not for personal aggrandizement, but ‘for the common good.’ The peculiar expression that is used might be literally rendered ‘with a view to profiting,’ not in itself making it clear whether the profit is for the individual or the group. The broader context makes it clear that the latter is in view (see especially [1 Corinthians] 14). Even so, this clearly stated purpose of ‘spiritual gifts’ (if I may continue to use that term for the full range of the manifestations of the Spirit that Paul envisages) must not be brought to bear on the broader discussion in a heavy-handed way. As we shall see, some wish to rule out the legitimacy of any private use of tongues on the basis of this and similar texts: What possible benefit for the entire community is there, they ask, in such private tongues-speaking? Clearly there is no direct benefit: no one but God is hearing what is being said. But Paul was granted extraordinary visions and revelations that were designed only for his immediate benefit (2 Cor. 12:1-10); yet surely the church received indirect profit insofar as those visions and revelations, no to mention the ensuing thorn in his flesh, better equipped him for proclamation and ministry. In the same way, it is hard to see how verse 7 of this chapter renders illegitimate a private use of tongues if the result is a better person, a more spiritually minded Christian: the church may thereby receive indirect benefit. The verse rules out using any charismata for personal aggrandizement or merely for self-satisfaction; it does not rule out all benefit for the individual (just as marriage, one of the charismata according to 1 Cor. 7.7, may benefit the individual), providing that the resulting matrix is for the common good (34-35).

Carson has eliminated the argument that a private prayer language is disqualified from the realm of spiritual gifts. There may be no direct impact for the common good, but certainly there is the possibility for indirect impact. His example of marriage and singleness being called ‘spiritual gifts’ given by God (1 Cor. 7) is an excellent example of charismata benefiting the individual primarily and the church secondarily.

In their desire to rid the IMB missionaries of charasmatic tendencies, the trustees have no confessional leg to stand upon. In addition, they have no biblical leg upon which to rest. One wonders, then, where they derive their justification for rejecting private prayer languages. Maybe it's because “Baptists have always believed this way”.

Charis humin,

Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

Posted in Don Carson, IMB trustees, NT exegesis, Private Prayer Language | 3 Comments »